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Chronicles of Craddock: 2021-2022
A look back at my writing projects over the last two years.
Welcome to the 2021 and 202 edition of Chronicles of Craddock, a semi-yearly blog in which I look back at my writing year that was, and offer a glimpse into what I'll be working on in the new year.
I meant to write an annual Chronicles of Craddock last January, but was too busy with writing projects to… write? Yes, that’s a thing that happens. So, this Chronicles of Craddock will offer a quick look back at 2021, then focus on 2022 and beyond.
If you want to compare my progress on 2021’s and 2022’s projects to the hopes and dreams I had for them as I wrote previous editions of this column, click here to read past installments of Chronicles of Craddock. These blogs are as much a writing exercise for me as they are a detailed report for you, my readers, and a way to offer a glimpse into what goes into my writing behind the scenes. With that said, fix yourself a drink, sit back, and enjoy.
2021: Year in Review
I usually kick off the Year in Review section by saying that the past year was my busiest to date. That’s doubly true in this instance: 2021 was busy, but 2022 was absolutely exhausting in the best way.
Monsters in the Dark: The Making of X-COM: UFO Defense
Way back when, X-COM creator Julian Gollop was kind enough to read an advance copy of Stay Awhile and Listen: Book 1 and write an endorsement for it. Asking Julian to read the book was no coincidence. Blizzard North’s developers played lots of X-COM before and during the making of Diablo; the game’s atmosphere had a huge effect on the tone Blizzard North chose for Diablo’s settings. I asked Julian if he’d be interested in having me interview him to write the story of how X-COM was made, and he agreed readily.
That book started as The X-COM Files, one of my worst “punny” names, and became Monsters in the Dark, a much more fitting title. The book released in late 2021 in paperback, digital, and audio formats, as well as a hardcover special edition that includes bonus interviews.
You can find Monsters in the Dark on Amazon and at major bookstores. You can read excerpts from Monsters in the Dark at the following outlets:
· Kotaku: X-COM’s Beloved Tactical Gameplay Took Months To Get Just Right
· Ars Technica: Developing the Distinctive Look of the Original X-COM: UFO Defense
· Polygon: X-COM Got Its Name, In Part, Because ‘XCON’ Sounded Like “Ex-Convict”
· Vice Games: How a Publishing Nightmare Set the Stage for the Original 'X-COM'
· Shacknews: Pro Strats: X-COM (1994) Strategy Guide Author David Ellis on QA and Writing Guides
· Kotaku: X-COM: UFO Defense Would Have Been Canned If Its Creators Hadn’t Secretly Revolted
Long Live Mortal Kombat
Long Live Mortal Kombat: Round 1, the first in a trilogy of books chronicling the history of the Mortal Kombat franchise. The series focuses on the MK games but takes a close look at other branches of the franchise, too, such as film and collecting action figures and other merchandise. I have two goals with the LLMK series. First, to go behind-the-scenes and recount how these games (11 numbered entries and counting, with several side entries over 30+ years) were made. I do this with all of my video game books, so I wanted to go deeper. That brings me to goal #2: Meet fans and share their stories.
So often, video game historians focus on how games are made. That’s important, but the impact games have on players is just as important. Without fans, one-off games don’t become franchises. I wanted to find out what happened when players took a game home and made it their own. How did it help shape their lives? Their identities?
Preproduction—researching people to interview, mapping out subjects, putting together a rough outline—began in February. Interviews began in March. By July 1, I had enough chapters outlined to begin writing. I wrote the first draft over three months, then let it cool for a month or two before beginning revisions.
I’ll talk more about that in the 2022 section.
FPS: First Person Shooter
In 2021, I received the opportunity to work on my first movie. FPS: First Person Shooter is a documentary about… puzzle games! No, it’s a doc about first-person shooters. My work on Rocket Jump caught the interest of Richard Moss, a fellow writer and video game historian, who was involved with FPS as a writer at the time. He mentioned me to Robin Block, CEO of CREATORVC, the production company behind FPS. Robin and I scheduled a meeting and hit it off right away. Funnily enough, he’d received Arcade Perfect as a gift from a documentarian friend a year or two previously. We seemed destined to work together.
I came aboard the FPS team in March as an advisor. My job was to pitch ideas for who to interview, games to cover, and use my industry contacts to invite contributors (game developers, pro players, and other historians with FPS knowledge) to be interviewed. Our Kickstarter launched in July. Within the first week, Robin asked me to direct.
I was stunned but flattered. Robin explained that I knew the FPS genre extremely well, and he wanted me to co-write the film with Richard and co-direct with Chris Stratton, who was on the team as our editor. I accepted with some trepidation. I’d never worked on a movie before, and wasn’t sure I would find my groove the way I’d done writing books.
Following the busyness of planning and executing our Kickstarter, we used the month of August to line up interviews. I came up with questions with input and additional questions from Richard. Dominic Wallis, one of our producers, stepped up to coordinate the logistics of interviews. I set up an interview, and he booked a venue and camera operator in the contributor’s area. The operator was in charge of setting up beforehand: lights, camera, audio equipment, and a laptop that I connected to via Skype or Zoom to talk to the contributor, who was in front of the camera.
Interviews began in September 2021 and lasted through March 2022. We talked to nearly 50 contributors for the film, then shifted gears to our next fundraising campaign. I’ll talk about that in the 2022 section.
First the first time since becoming the long reads editor of Shacknews in February or March of 2017, I didn’t publish any long reads. I discussed this with Asif, the owner of Shacknews and my boss. I had published multiple long reads in 2017, 2019, and 2022 of varying lengths, and our longest long reads in 2018 and 2022. That averaged to roughly two or three a year. I needed a break to focus on other projects. Asif was fine with that. He asked if I would return to Shacknews to help with coverage in the summer and fall, and I agreed.
One of my pet projects since returning to Shacknews in 2016 was a Hall of Fame. Publications with longevity such as Computer Gaming World, IGN, and GameSpot had Hall of Fames. Shacknews deserved one as well. The website turned 25 in 2021, and that seemed the ideal year to launch our Hall of Fame. I was part of the “Council of the Old,” our committee that nominated inductees. I’m proud of our inaugural Hall of Fame class, which you can browse here.
2022: Year in Review
I was busy enough in 2021 between Long Live MK and FPS. 2022 presented a new opportunity: To serve as the lead narrative designer and writer of a video game. Let’s dig in.
Long Live Mortal Kombat
After writing the first draft of Long Live Mortal Kombat: Round 1 over the summer and fall of 2021, much of 2022 was consumed by revisions to the manuscript, and running and fulfilling the book’s Kickstarter campaign. I wrote a book breakdown about LLMK with more details; you can read it here.
I’m very proud of the book. It’s one of my best yet, and reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. The only wrinkle is the fulfillment of the Kickstarter. Amie, my wife and business partner in this venture, has done a fantastic job handling shipping. However, we were both frustrated that a steep increase in the cost of printing and distribution caused us to use Amazon for printing. Amazon had the best price, printing the paperback and hardcover editions at a fraction of our usual printer’s cost. The problem is Amazon only allows authors to order books once a book is live. That meant LLMK was available on Amazon before we could ship it to Kickstarter backers.
Crowdfunding campaigns live and die by backers. They’re the first to show their support of and belief in your creation by giving you money to make it a reality, and they deserve to get their hands on it before anyone else. Unfortunately, that did not happen with LLMK. I regret that. Most backers have been understanding; they know it was never our intent for them to receive their books after the general public. I appreciate their patience and continued support, but I have resolved to not run another crowdfunding campaign unless I can guarantee that my backers receive their products before everyone else.
You can find LLMK on Amazon and in major bookstores. Several gaming publications worked with me to publish excerpts from LLMK. You can read them below:
Ars Technica: The actor who claims he co-created Mortal Kombat
IGN: Mortal Kombat Nitro Developer Remembers the Faster, Bloodier SNES Version That Never Was
Shacknews: How Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3's Tier List Determined the Best Fighters
Game Informer: How Mortal Kombat Gave One Player the Courage to Stand Up to Drug Dealers
Nintendo Life: How Mortal Kombat Led To The Birth Of E3 And The ESRB
PC Gamer: Why Do Mortal Kombat 3 Players Still Insist on Keyboard Controls 27 Years Later?
Ars Technica: The Punch That Changed Mortal Kombat History
If you’ve read other books I’ve written such as the Stay Awhile and Listen series, you know I like to experiment with including bonus content. I envision my books about video games as museum exhibits to the people who created the games and the games themselves, so I like to include as many fun and fascinating stories as possible. One way to include more information that I find interesting but that doesn’t quite fit in a chapter of the main book is by including a bonus section. For instance, each Stay Awhile book has at least two sections: the main book, and Side Quests, bonus content readers can peruse as they read the main story, or leave for later, or skip if they have no interest.
There are two issues with that approach. First, more content means more pages. Now, that’s fine as a general rule. I read long books, and I write long books. Hooray for doorstoppers! However, more pages means higher printing and shipping costs. Second, I’ve yet to find a convenient and organic method of including bonus content in books. Digital editions of the Stay Awhile series let you tap links on pages to read a Side Quest, and then you touch another link to return to the main book. That’s not possible to do in a print book, of course, so I place Side Quests at the end of chapters where I feel the Side Quests are relevant. That adds up to more pages, too.
Enter Kool Stuff, a free-to-read companion book to Long Live MK. Anyone can read Kool Stuff online, and I’ll also be publishing it as a digital and paperback book later this year. An optional add-on book seems the best way to tell more stories about a game, its creators, and/or the era in which a game was made, without 1) adding that content to the main book and increasing the page count and associated costs; and 2) adding that content to the main book, which risks slowing down the pacing of that book.
You can read Kool Stuff at davidlcraddock.substack.com, my online newsletter where you can sign up for notifications when I publish more content. Kool Stuff will also be available in digital and paperback editions later this year, after it’s made available to Kickstarter backers.
FPS: First Person Shooter
2022 was the year FPS entered postproduction. We’d done all the interviews. The time had come to make a movie. That entailed scripting chapters and working with Chris Stratton, my co-director and our editor, to build them into video segments.
That process has been immensely gratifying. Chris and I have grown very close, and we’re proud of every segment we’ve done so far. As of this writing, the film is roughly half finished. Chris needs to go back and polish each section (add “strap lines,” the names of the talking heads on-screen; visual effects for transitions, etc.), but as of this writing, you could sit down and watch half the film complete with interview segments and gameplay footage.
I can’t show you finished segments yet, but we ran an Indiegogo this year featuring preview clips. Those can be found below:
Shacknews: Official Trailer
Angry Video Game Nerd: Doom
Gmanlives: Duke Nukem 3D
IGN: Wolfenstein 3D
Nightdive Studios: Doom 64
NME: ‘FPS: First Person Shooter’ Reveals Why Tom Clancy Agreed to Make ‘Rainbow Six’ Games
As an added bonus, I participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with my co-writer Richard Moss and special guests Unreal co-creator Cliff Bleszinski and id Software co-founder John Romero. You can read our AMA here.
I also got to attend the Esports Business Summit (EBS) in Las Vegas, where I screened a preview of FPS and inducted Dennis “Thresh” Fong, the world’s first pro gamer, into the EBS Hall of Fame. Creators spend so much time toiling on projects and wondering if anyone will care when it’s finished. It was an honor and a privilege to share the stage with Dennis, and to show off a portion of FPS to an audience that reacted with excitement and eagerness for the film.
Unannounced Video Game
I’m the lead narrative designer and writer of an upcoming video game that hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t reveal specifics about the project. What I can say is I’m excited about it, and about being involved at this level. I’ve done writing and scenario design for games off and on over the past 15 years, but this is my first time being at the ground floor. I’m looking forward to sharing more when I’m able, likely this summer or fall.
I was swamped with other projects in 2022, so there were no new long reads published on Shacknews. We did unveil our 2022 Hall of Fame class, which was lots of fun. Check that out here.
2023: Looking Ahead
This month marks my 19th year as a professional writer. I’ve published over 30 books and countless articles. I’ve got big plans for my 20th anniversary next year, and all of them will require me to do lots of work this year in preparation. There are secret projects brewing; I’ll leave it at that for now.
For now, here’s what I can say about my work in the coming year.
FPS: First Person Shooter will launch this summer!
Kool Stuff, the companion book to Long Live Mortal Kombat, will be available sometime this year. Probably late spring/early summer.
Ultimate Long Live Mortal Kombat: Round 1 is the collector’s edition of the book, featuring color photos, screenshots, and concept artwork. It’ll be out later this year.
Whew. Given the length of this blog, I guess I should consider “Chronicles of Craddock: 2021-2022” my first major writing project of 2023! I hope you enjoyed this look back, and I hope you’re even more excited about what’s to come this year and next.
Thanks for reading. Happy new year!